What Is Outlook Autodiscover Option? How Does It Work

Before Outlook 2007, for a novice, it was quite a complex task to set up their email addresses on Outlook. You would require details more than your Email and password to configure the email on the client. 

After the auto-discover option was introduced, it automated the process of locating the server configurations and setting up the email client. For those users who frequently switch between email accounts and are not familiar with the server settings, Autodiscover is a very handy feature. 

The Outlook Autodiscover feature facilitates Outlook clients to connect with the Exchange server.  The feature locates the necessary settings from the active directory and implements them automatically. 

What is Outlook Autodiscover Option?

Most of the users on the outlook client only have an idea about the login credentials, i.e., the Email address and the password.  However, to configure outlook, you would require other information like server address and port numbers to connect your email account. A normal user won’t have a clue about these configurations. 

This is where the Outlook auto-discover feature comes as an assistance. It helps the client fetch the server details automatically without having the user configure it manually. 

The auto-discover feature works only with limited email accounts like Exchange and Office 365. This feature is crucial for the connectivity of not only the outlook clients but also for the connectivity of mobile devices, exchange server hybrid setup, or for migration from the on-premise to the cloud deployment. 

How Does Outlook Autodiscover Option Work?

Outlook Autodiscover is a useful feature to set up email accounts over outlook without having to configure the server settings manually. Here’s how this feature works. 

  • Auto Discover .xml file is created on the Internet Information Services (IIS). This file handles the request for the auto-discover feature from outlook. 
  • At first, the users enter their login credentials to set up their accounts on Outlook.
  • Then outlook checks the domain name in the email address and sends an HTTP request to the active directory on the URL which is in this form,  https://domain.com/autodiscover/autodiscover.xml
    The domain.comin the URL is the domain in the email address of the user. The request is made to search for the email server settings for the respective email account. 
  • In response, the email server sends the settings that can be used to configure the user’s account on Outlook. These settings include the server address, security protocols, and port numbers. Outlook then connects to the email server and downloads users’ contacts, emails, calendar events, etc. 
  • If the email server fails to respond, Outlook will use the Auto discover service from the Microsoft Exchange server or try to connect to other different servers using URLs or protocols.

The auto-discover file is also downloaded to the local device. It is usually located at %userProfile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\16,  

Outlook autodiscover Process

The auto-discovery file (in .xml format) is kept hidden in this directory. If you access the file, you will find three protocols commonly used in the auto-discovery files. 

  1. EXCH: This refers to the Exchange protocol that is used to transfer the data between the server and the client. It also synchronizes the email/calendar data between them. It is used for configuring the Exchange Web Services (EWS).  exch protocol
  2. WEB: It is used for configuring the Outlook Web Access (OWA) Client. Web protocol
  3. EXHTTP: It is related to external outlook clients. exhttp protocol

The Outlook requests for the auto-discover .xml file during the initial user login. If the attempt fails, outlook requests again after 5 minutes. However, if it once succeeds in gaining access to the file, it will make a try every hour. Hence the XML file that is downloaded over your local machine gets updated regularly to address the change in the exchange server configuration. 

Outlook also tries to pull out the auto-discover file in case of any connectivity issues or if any application invokes it by using the Outlook Messaging API (MAPI)

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